Forever Beeler: Sonatas & Soli
Alex Janacek, clarinet; Ladislav Bilan, vibraphone; Petr Hladik, flute; Jan Dvorak, bassoon;
Dalibor Prochazka, bass trombone; Kiri Kral, tuba; Luci Kaucka, piano.
Jennifer Slowick, English horn and oboe; Karolina Rojahn, piano.
Navona Records 6085
Total Time: 78:36
Composer Alan Beeler (1939-2016) taught at Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and at Eastern Kentucky University. For this new release, we are provided an ample collection of work for solo instruments and unique combinations that explore Beeler’s musical language. There are pieces of more serial nature, some exploring microtones, and a host of different harmonic explorations. Throughout is a sense of his playfulness and humor. Sonatas for a variety of solo instruments provide the variety in this extended program.
In the Clarinet Sonata, the music is a microcosm of musical styles. The first movement has an almost Hinemith-like harmonic quality. The jazz roots of the instrument are explored in the central movement with rich extended harmonies and a nice lyric line. We are closer to ragtime line prominently exploring a wider range of the instrument in angular jumps and lines as the piano provides additional forward motion for the final movement.
Something More Cheerful Suite is a work for solo vibraphone. The five movements are a set of variations. The soloist must also be mindful of the unique attack of notes here in a rather accessible work that has a mysterious quality.
One thing that comes across in these works is the way Beeler chooses to use the piano. The Flute Sonata tends to find the piano in a more traditional accompanying role adding harmony and helping transition with repetition of flute lines, when it is not also doubling the line. The opening movement suggests a more relaxed quality which seems to waft across this rather lyrical work. The Sonata da Camera focuses a bit more on counterpoint and Baroque style in this work for bassoon and piano. Each movement bears a descriptive formal title from the period. The opening “French Overture” features a fugue after the introduction. A chaconne is at the center of the work and features some of the lusher harmonic ideas heard in the earlier clarinet sonata with a beautiful lyric line. The brief “Alla Concerto” closing things off.
Karolina Rojahn is featured in a variety of works for piano that focus on some of the rhythmic connections and harmonic ideas found in the other chamber pieces. We are in more serial territory with the tightly drawn My Identity Suite for piano. Rhythmic ideas are used to help provide unity in each of the three brief movements. While lines may be angular, most of the dissonance does not overwhelm the listener as the music also moves across registers. A similar approach can be heard in the English Horn Sonata which actually sounds like a continuation of the earlier piece. The Micro-Tonal Suite allows us to hear Beeler attaching these experiments in sound through different harmonic combinations and compositional techniques that focus on expanding and contracting intervallic relationships. Quite brief works such as the 12-tone Quartal Etude and Beeler’s Fit ’06 are further examples of the composer’s integration of these harmonic and linear approaches to writing. Usually these are done with a rhythmic idea that forms a connective organizing structure. Every once in a while, there is a little, jazz-like gesture, or some motif that seem to wink at the listener rewarding their careful hearing of the piece at hand. Even in works like the 3 Early Pieces and the Piano Sonata, we can hear the way Beeler crafts such miniature moments into intriguing musical structures.
The performances here are all excellent with the different sonatas certainly allowing listeners to hear the way Beeler connects lines against harmonic components in his accompaniments. All the pieces are uniquely looking to further enhance concepts of attack of a note, or chord, with fascinating shifts from these blocks of sound to more linear lyric movement. The pieces each have a more personal and intimate feel even when the instruments may not be as known for such expression (bass trombone, tuba). It is certainly an album that allows the composer’s work to shine.